So, you’re standing at the starting line for a half marathon. The shot is about to sound. Do you have faith that you can finish this race? Here are 4 possible answers to this question.

  1. If you’ve been training for years and have run a half marathon before, you will feel confident, assured, and certain that you will finish. The only question may be your timing. Will you improve upon the last race? Will you run a personal best? Doubt about finishing? Not at all. You only wonder how and when you will finish and what level of success you will attain.
  2. If you’ve been training for the half marathon for months (though you’ve never run one before), you will likely feel that you can finish. After all, you’ve run shorter races. You have an assurance that your efforts to train and prepare your body for this exertion will enable to you at least, minimally, finish. Even more, you may hope that beyond finishing that you finish in a respectable time. And beyond that you may even hope to succeed in running well enough to secure an achievement. Again, it is most the how and when that is unknown.
  3. If you haven’t been training for a long enough time and have not run many races in your life, you may feel a sense of doubt, fear, or dread. You may be apprehensive and lack confidence in your ability to make it three miles let alone 13.1. You may be nervous that injury or exhaustion will take you down before you can reach the end. Thus, your faith in your ability to finish lacks assurance and lacks confidence.
  4. If you haven’t trained at all, it’s almost certain you aren’t even trying to run the half marathon. You may merely be on the sidelines prepared to cheer the others on. Your faith in your own ability to run a half marathon is dormant, because you have no desire to run a half marathon and therefore no need to exercise your feelings toward such a feat. The race itself has little meaning except perhaps that you may wish you had the courage to try to do such a thing. But it is a feat that seems somewhat abstract. Or, you may simply admire the worth it has to others you care about who are participating and you are happy to cheer them on.

Faith in Christ

Similar to this metaphor of a half marathon, faith in Christ is a lot more than believing He exists. It’s more than being on the sidelines watching His life and admiring His teachings. It’s more than doing a few of the commandments that you like, but leaving many of the others un-attempted. It’s a lot more than simply confessing His name.

Our ability to approach God and take advantage of His grace is directly related to our efforts to serve Him and keep His commandments. Our desire to be like Him—completely—and to follow Him—completely—affects our actions and therefore our assurance in the blessings He offers and the things of the gospel that are unseen, but are true. Our belief and trust in what God offers, shown by our faithful actions, is what translates to assurance that blessings (things we can’t yet see perfectly and don’t know how and when God will fulfill them) will come. That we’ll make it!

When we approach God in prayer asking for guidance, help, miracles, blessings, and understanding; the assurance we have of His response is directly related to the amount of desire we have to obey Him and how we have exercised that desire in our daily thoughts, words, and deeds.

In Hebrews 11:1, Ether 12:6, and Alma 32:21 we learn that

Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge (meaning that we have seen the future and know it precisely and exactly without any need to hope for it). It is the substance of things hoped for, the assurance of things hoped for, it is the evidence of things not seen, which are true.

In Lectures on Faith (lecture first, paragraph 9) we learn that:

Faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen; and the principle of action in all intelligent beings.

What is meant by “principle of action”? We learn further (lecture third, paragraphs 2-5) that:

…three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which [he/she] is pursuing, is according to [God’s] will

Faith is a principle of action because our assurance of God’s blessings gives us the motivation we need to act as He has commanded us to act. We act out of an assurance (not a perfect knowledge) that God’s blessings and words will be fulfilled, though we may not know how or when.

So, if God has said that He will bless us if we keep His commandments. And, because we feel that this is true, and we determine to keep His commandments the best we can, then we have a feeling of assurance that blessings will come. This assurance is a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit testifies to our hearts and minds that our lives are “according to God’s will” and such a feeling gives us confidence when we approach Him in prayer and seek for things that we need. The very act of praying is an act of faith and hope because we have an assurance that we ask not amiss (2 Nephi 4:35) because we are trying to do His will.

Faith begins with a desire. Such desire leads to a hope that we can receive, or accomplish, something good that God has asked us to do. That hope and faith leads us to act in ways that increase our hope and faith. Then, when we approach God (or our figurative half marathon) we have a response that resembles numbers 1 and 2 above. Our actions, made in faith and hope, give us assurance that we will finish. It is only the how and the when that is unknown.

Female eye with long eyelashes close-up

Eye of Faith

Living our lives with an eye of faith is living a life of trust and assurance in God. But, such assurance, such substance, such evidence of things unseen (which are true) comes from experimenting upon God’s word/commandments (John 7:17, Alma 32:27-43) and acting in hope and faith. As we do so, we will slowly, little by little, increase our power to do good—or in other words, our faith. The more times we test God’s plan for us and find it to be good, and to be right, and to give us what God promises, the greater our power to do more. Why? Because our assurance and confidence in God increases proportionate to the heed and diligence we give to His requests of us.

In Alma 12:9-11 we read:

…It is given unto many to now the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed an diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser potion of the world; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

And they that will harden the hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction.

In other words, the more we spiritually train (heed God’s commands and keep the covenants we’ve made with Him, or press forward to make more covenants) the greater our capacity to receive, and do, more. Just as an athlete starts with small goals, 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons, marathons, triathlons, etc., spiritually, we start by desiring to do good and acting on that desire and on a hope for God’s promised blessings. When the blessings come, our belief and trust and assurance in God’s promises increases until there is nothing we can’t achieve—that is according to His will.

Which is True

You’ll note the caveat in the scripture, that our faith must be exercised toward something which is true. Truth is things as they really are and as they always will be (Jacob 4:13). There are many things we may choose to believe that are untrue. And, no amount of action in the pursuit of those false beliefs can produce a positive result—or a result that increases our faith, hope, and salvation. Thus, finding truth is critical to achieving the peace, assurance, evidence, and substance of things unseen.

Conclusion

Faith, and acting on our faith, has nothing to do with earning our salvation. We can’t earn it, and that’s not what God’s commandments and covenants are for. Faith, and living with an eye of faith, has everything to do with our intention to become truly Christian, like Christ. It’s a schooling process to keep commandments and receive and keep ordinances and covenants. His grace makes it possible for us to become just such people through such godly schooling. Repentance is His admonition to partake of His grace by accepting this process. Our righteous action—made in faith that we can become like God—is what we do to actively accept that grace.

Living with an eye of faith is hard. And, it gets ever more difficult in these modern days where our technology makes us believe that God doesn’t exist, that His plan is unfair, biased, prejudiced, or that we can find happiness without Him. But all who pursue such false truths will eventually come to learn that such things are not true. We all have our struggles and differences, but we can never fully separate ourselves from our eternal identity as children of God (Romans 8:35, 39).

The busier, faster, and more self-focused, and more distracted and occupied this world becomes with technology, communication, and self-invented progression, the more I feel compelled to slow down, focus more on home and family, trust in God’s simple truths, and to develop my talents to bless my family rather than to gain recognition from a lot of people I don’t know or to mold my life to make them approve. And, I feel strongly that those who live “with an eye of faith” will also feel inspired to do the same; to detach from the world and to follow the path that God presents for them; a path that is fuller, richer, and full of true progression.

BT

I am often on my knees asking for those things that I feel I need and want. I am often praying for guidance. I am often looking for peace, or inspiration. Aren’t we all? I am often on my knees because that’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m more frequently on my knees (these days) because I know nowhere else to go to get the power, comfort, peace and reassurance I need. Indeed, there is nowhere else to go…in my experience.

Efficiency is something I like. I’m great at cleaning and organizing quickly because I’m efficient. I know how to see all that needs to be done and find ways to organize and clean in an order that saves time while also accomplishing a great deal at a high quality. I can be detail oriented when I need to be, but I never get lost in details.

Prayer is something I have worked long and hard to be efficient at. Not efficient as in praying as fast as I can, in as few words, with the most impact, like I’m running a business, or organizing files. No, efficient as in getting the power and guidance out of prayer that I need. Getting out of my own way, so to speak. Praying in a way that works. Not simply spouting words or expecting God to read my mind (which I know He can do). And, by focusing on how to make my prayers matter TO ME, I find that I offer them better and with more effect, granting me expediency…or the ability to get those things I so desperately seek.

I hope I’m saying this right. There are many ways to accomplish things in life. But, there are better ways, and best ways. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to, metaphorically speaking, eliminate the fluff, and get to a point where my prayers hopefully have maximum efficiency in helping me to increase my relationship with God and my ability to call down the powers of heaven to gain peace, guidance, inspiration, and assurance on my path through this life.

One of the ways I have found that I’ve been able to improve upon this (because I’m in no way perfect at prayer) is to understand and utilize the power of expediency.

Expedient

Several times in the Doctrine and Covenants, an entire book of revelation given based on expediency, we see the word expedient used to define what should be asked for in prayer and/or what things will be manifested unto us by the Holy Ghost (Doctrine and Covenants 18:18; 88:64-65).

Expedient = what is advantageous, practical, beneficial, useful

The scriptures are full of counsel regarding prayer. There are some important elements: addressing God—the Father, expressing gratitude, seeking forgiveness of sins, praying over anything in our lives that we need help with, asking for grace, praying for others, etc., and closing in the name of Jesus Christ—our Mediator.

However, when it comes to getting specific answers from God to our prayers, there are guidelines that are given. However, it hasn’t been until very recently that I have begun to understand, to a better extent, all the guidelines and examples of expedient prayers given in the scriptures and what they mean for me. And, more importantly, how to use them to receive the answers I seek.

What NOT to Ask For

In the scriptures, God has told us in many ways expedientthings we are not supposed to ask for. We are to not ask for things that are not expedient (Doctrine and Covenants 88:5). We are not to ask for signs for proof, or to create faith or testimony (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12). We are commanded not to ask for things to consume upon our lusts (James 4:3). We are not to seek for revenge upon our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We are not to pray for riches, except that we may use what riches we receive to build up the kingdom of God (Jacob 2:19), etc.

So, we can talk to God about everything. But, we must take into consideration some important guidelines when it comes to what blessings we seek at God’s hand. Asking God to do a back flip just to satisfy our curiosity about his mobility is hardly a proper thing to ask of the Almighty. We must be mindful of what we pray for, ask for, and seek for from our Father in Heaven.

So, what are those guidelines for asking?

While there are many scriptures that point to these guidelines, I’m going to boil it down to a few.

James 1:5

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not and it shall be given him.

What are we commanded to ask for? Wisdom.

Note that God uses the word “wisdom.” He doesn’t say information. He doesn’t say fun facts. He says wisdom. Wisdom is far different than information and fun facts.

Wisdom = experience, knowledge, good judgment, intelligence, common sense; as well as the ability to apply such to our lives. Wisdom also refers to general societal knowledge and principles.

So, when God says, “If you lack wisdom,” He means that you don’t have the wisdom/intelligence you need to act wisely.

James 1:6

But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

Note that God says to, “ask in faith, nothing wavering.” We also often receive the counsel from God to ask, “with real intent,” or in “sincerity of heart” or with “full purpose of heart” (Moroni 7:9; 10:4, 2 Nephi 31:13). I believe these are all similar in meaning, in that God means us to pray with the intent to listen and to follow. If we seek answers or instruction or guidance, He wants us to know He won’t give us wisdom if we have no intent to act upon it (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33; Matthew 7:6). He only gives light and truth to those who will receive it, act on it, and seek for more (Alma 12:9-11).Man praying

How are we commanded to ask for wisdom? With the sincere intent to act upon the wisdom we hope to receive.

Joseph Smith-History 1:18

My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join.

Alma 22:18

O God Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.

In these two scriptures it’s important to pay attention to what the individuals are praying for. Joseph asks to know which church is true that he may know which to join. The King of the Lamanites wants to God to manifest unto him if He exists, that he may give away all his sins to know Him and live with Him.

Herein lies the answer to expediency. Both want simple answers that they may know how to act so that they may progress spiritually—for themselves.

We know that God’s work and glory is to bring about our immortality (living forever) and eternal life (life like God and with God) (Moses 1:39). If that is God’s most important and eternal work, then, it would seem that those things that are expedient for us are those endowments of knowledge and wisdom that will lead us (if we listen and follow it) to live with and become like God.

What wisdom are we supposed to seek? The wisdom that will lead us forward in God’s plan toward becoming like Him.

Doctrine and Covenants 9:6-10

Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right…

Now, if you have known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now.

This scripture was given for Oliver Cowdery who was told he could help translate the Book of Mormon. But, once he was told he could help he expected all the wisdom and guidance from the Spirit he needed would simply come. Poof. He took no thought for the effort required to receive the wisdom and guidance he needed.

A modern equivalent of the mistake Oliver Cowdery made is to get a calling to teach Sunday school at church. And then, simply because you were called and set apart you didn’t think it was necessary to prepare your lessons, pray for guidance before each lesson, and then to follow that guidance in preparing and delivering your lesson. The calling didn’t exempt you from the effort to do the calling the Lord called you to do.

It’s like getting the validation that God is okay with whom you choose to marry. But, simply because you got married in the temple you expect that everything will be celestial without actually living the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ in your daily married life–simply because God said, OK. Nothing in this life, or in eternity, is simply handed to us without accompanying effort and responsibility to care for the gift received. All godly guidance requires effort to receive and effort to follow.

Woman hands praying with a bible in a dark over wooden table

How are we to seek for the wisdom we lack? We are to do our part to get what wisdom we can before going to the Lord for either validation or further guidance. We are never “done” getting personal revelation until we have become godly.

Now, let’s set forth the specific pattern we’ve identified for getting answers to our prayers.

Pattern #1: You’ve got to work

Brigham young taught, “It is only where experience fails that revelation is needed” (BY, 416). I might alter that to say, “where wisdom fails.”

If the information is reasonably available to us through sincere efforts of searching, seeking, discussion with wise friends and family members, and pondering, God isn’t going to give a separate answer. God is loving but I suspect a perfect being is also perfectly efficient and not prone to ridiculous acts simply because we come to Him crying. As well, when we put ourselves into a climate of seeking, pondering, discussing, and searching, there is no limit to the answers God can give us about many things. So, to just dispense one sentence phrases or even short paragraphs anytime we have a question is not only inefficient and contrary to God’s nature, it deprives us of the further light and knowledge God has for us on many topics. A truly loving God will choose the more helpful, expedient, and valuable of the two ways to answering our prayers.

Pattern #2: Expediency*

As God’s 24/7 goal (if you want to put it in mortal time constraints) is to save and exalt us and help us become godly (Moses 1:39). It would stand therefore, that though all questions are good, the best questions are those that are derived from the deepest, simplest desires of our hearts.

*I want to make a brief comment about lines of revelation. God has set up His church to have accepted lines of revelation so that we know when something is from God, or not. God is a god of order, and not confusion (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8). Revelation for the entire church comes through the prophet. Revelation for the region comes through the designated Seventy. Revelation for our stake comes through the Stake President. Revelation for our ward comes through the Bishop. Revelation for the Relief Society comes through the Relief Society President, etc.

Revelation for our lives comes to us. As well, in personal lives there are also smaller, but distinct lines of communication. Parents can only get so much guidance for their children. The older children become the less revelation a parent can receive on behalf of a child. A parent may receive inspiration to caution a child about something. But, if child receives a spiritual witness that a parent has not also received it means that the child is capable of getting his/her own revelation and that God doesn’t need to cycle that revelation through the parent. Etc.

So, expediency may also relate to questions we ask that are not for ourselves. Even if the wisdom will comfort us, but it is ultimately wisdom intended for a line of authority which we are not in; then we are not likely to get such wisdom, especially if we cannot act on it for our own, personal salvation.

Pattern #3: Real Intent

Finally, we must have the true intent to act upon the wisdom we receive. If we want facts to satisfy fears and doubts, but we have no intent to do anything based on the counsel or guidance that comes, we are very unlikely to get much, if anything.

Example of the Expedient Pattern:

If we look at Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in Joseph Smith-History; we learn that prior to going to the sacred grove to ask which church to join, Joseph attended all the several meetings of the many churches in his area. All focused on different points of doctrine. All interpreted the Bible differently. We know Joseph got to know many of the pastors well. We know he conversed with them and asked them questions on their varied doctrines. We also know Joseph studied the scriptures looking for guidance as to what church to join. He searched and pondered and studied. He did all the seeking he could. HE WORKED

Then, when the wisdom of society, the scriptures, and his own failed, then he went to ask of God.

JOSEPH ASKED AN EXPEDIENT QUESTION. Which church should I join?

JOSEPH ASKED WITH REAL INTENT. Joseph asked with the intent to join whatever church God told him to join. He simply wanted to know which one was God’s.

Note, he didn’t ask God, “Is the Methodist church better than the Presbyterian?” He didn’t ask, “Why are there so many churches?” He didn’t ask, “The Bible says there’s one faith and one baptism. Why then do all the churches have so many different ways of baptizing?” None of these are bad questions. They simply don’t have the greatest expediency.

Joseph’s question was expedient because the answer would allow Joseph to progress toward godliness and salvation.

Questions that are generally not expedient

Based on these patterns, let’s look at questions that are generally not expedient. These are unlikely to get answered because the answer doesn’t necessary lead to personal action or progression.

  • What color was the Liahona?
  • When will the second coming of Christ be?
  • How come you let the prophet put this new policy in place that seems so unlike you?
  • Why can’t women also officiate in the Priesthood?
  • Why did you let me lose my job?
  • Why did you let that terrible catastrophe happen?
  • Was the earth really created in five earth days or is what science says correct?
  • Did you use evolution to create all life?

Now, let’s look take these un-expedient questions down to their core. Let’s look at the deeper, simpler questions that are behind them that are expedient. The answers to these questions require pre-work and also will lead to personal action and progression.

Questions that are more expedient**

  • I have read the Book of Mormon and find much good in it. Is the Book of Mormon Woman Sitting Down in Prayer Silhouettetrue? Is it your word?
  • I’m trying to live a good life, but I know I’m not ready to see Christ. So, what is the most important thing I can be doing right now to prepare for the second coming of Christ?
  • I am trying to accept and follow the prophet’s counsel in all things. But I’m struggling with this most current policy. Can you please reassure me. Is <current prophet> a true prophet?
  • I’ve been studying the scriptures and have found several passages that indicate your love for all your children. But, I’m still struggling to feel peace about it in relation to how the church is set up. Can you reassure me? Can you help me to know that you love women as much as you do men?
  • I’ve lost my job. I’ve looked at several jobs and have applied to the ones I feel will best help me take care of my family. Is the course my life is taking according to Thy will? Will I be able to find the job you want me to have?
  • Science makes it seem like the earth coming into being was random and took eons (implies study). I don’t know how to reconcile that with what the Bible says (implies study). Perhaps there is much missing from both the scientific and the Bible accounts. So, can you please reassure me? Did you create the earth?
  • Am I really your literal spirit son or daughter? Or am I just a product of evolution? I need to know so that I can feel confident in the course of action I’m choosing for my life. If you’re real and I’m your child, then that will change the decision I make.

**Note that the answer to any of these questions requires previous personal action and study and that the answer will lead to continued personal action and eternal progression.

We can be upset or confused about many things in life. But, that which is of most value for us to do is to break down those frustrations we have to their core doctrine, their deepest simplest root, and then take that question to the Lord rather than the more complex and less expedient questions we often have.

It is important to note, however, that the Lord can answer any question we put to Him. There are occasions when He has answered what, according to the formula I have presented, are less expedient questions. When He has done so and why is beyond my ability to confer to you. But, from my own study and experience, I have felt that, in general, we are likely to get answers more quickly and more clearly if we seek to make our questions and requests expedient.

Why doesn’t God tell us everything? Why doesn’t He speak the answer to every issue and question we have in our minds and hearts? I don’t know. But, as I am confident in his “true love” for us, I believe that the problem is not His limitation in answering, but ours in desiring the best knowledge and understanding how to receive those expedient answers.

Our finite understanding, perspective, and capabilities make it impossible for us to converse with the Lord as we would likely wish. There is much the Lord can tell us if our hearts and minds are right and prepared. But, He has chosen to reveal only those things that are expedient for our eternal progression.

So, we can get upset that God doesn’t tell us everything. OR, we can follow the pattern He has set for getting answers to prayers.

BT

Doctrine: Expediency has everything to do with getting consistent answers to our prayers. The scriptures lay out a pattern for asking expedient questions and receiving answers. God is not limited in His ability to talk to us, but we are limited in our ability to hear His voice and understand His ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

While all of us may have some experiences and memories of times when we have received clear impressions and instructions from the Holy Ghost, it is rarely an ability that we master without time and significant, consistent effort. In fact, sometimes it seems that God gives us Holy Ghost nibbles and snacks and then makes it difficult to get the rest of the banquet. And, in my opinion, this is exactly what He does and for good reason.

The Holy Ghost is a Gift, not an Entitlement

Unlike any other gift that God gives us, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is the one gift that is essential to our eternal salvation and exaltation. The Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire. He is the Master Teacher. He is the one who, because of the Atonement, can take our righteous desires plus our imperfect actions and effect real and permanent changes in our very souls. This makes the Holy Ghost the great Sanctifier. Even with the Atonement of Christ, without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we cannot become like God nor even aspire to.

A gift like this God WILL protect. It is not for the passive Christian or the doubting Thomas’s. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is also not a gift with only one educational certificate that you can master by attending church a few times. There aren’t only a couple levels of personal revelation. Just as a person must participate in a basic course of education to become a doctor in any philosophy or profession (whether they are brilliant enough to skip grades and/or CLEP out of college courses), so also, recognizing the Gift of the Holy Ghost has nearly unlimited steps and degrees that must be pursued one at a time and with diligent, consistent faith and effort.

Christ was the most intelligent of us all. Yet, He humbled Himself to progress according to God’s will. He received grace by grace until He received a fullness (Doctrine and Covenants 93:13). He was perfect and yet He still was baptized, and so forth, to “fulfill all righteousness,” and to do His Father’s will (St. John 6:38), not His own. And, He didn’t make a fuss over having to do it. So, if we think we are too smart, or righteous enough at present, to submit to a path of hard work, humility, and diligence, then God will not force us to do so, nor will He lightly part with His guidance. We can demand that He give us proof and guidance in “our own way” and we will get exactly what we want (Alma 29:4)…to our own condemnation (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12).

The more Christlike we become, the greater our ability to recognize God’s promptings and guidance through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And, though a doctor may spend up to 18 years or more reaching his/her desired level of understanding and education in a specific field, it would be very unwise to assume that the level and degree of promptings you can receive from the Holy Ghost ends as quickly time-wise and can be achieved with even a third of the effort.

So, if you’re looking for a quick answer, this blog cannot offer you a blanket set of ideals which will solve your struggles. At best, it will prescribe a course of “spiritual education and effort,” that, IF pursued will lead you along a path to your desired goal. It’s a prescription for years of hard work, study, hope, faith, and practice (St. John 7:17; 17:3). The prescription is simple and will follow below.

So, how bad to you want it?

Note: This blog post is directed specifically at recognizing promptings from “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” For a commentary on the difference between the Light of Christ, the Power of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, please click here to visit a previous blog.

Hands opening a red gift box with ribbon in shadow

God Purposefully Requires Diligent and Consistent Effort in order to Access to Increasing Guidance from the Holy Ghost

Why does God make it so hard to recognize the guidance of the Holy Ghost? Is it some game to Him? Doesn’t He realize we are trying to do His will?

God doesn’t give guidance to those who don’t want it, don’t appreciate it, are skeptical of it, and don’t plan to follow it. He will invite you to seek His guidance, but He won’t give it lightly, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33).

As well, God says (Alma 12:9-10):

It is given to many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they [the mysteries] are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of the word…according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (See also Doctrine and Covenants 50:24)

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is just that—a gift. It is intended to be given to us in increasing amounts as we use it for its designed purpose: to grow, learn, become more Christlike, more humble, more faithful, more loving…more like God. So, if we get into a “I’m good like I am,” rut, then we may begin to struggle to receive continued guidance beyond the current level we have received to date. This is because the guidance is meant to lead us upward, not to keep us on the same plane we’ve camped on. We can’t be complacent or satisfied with a minimal, or even what we consider a high, level of righteousness.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost isn’t something we can use when it’s convenient. We can’t go crying to the Lord for help and then expect guidance to come if we haven’t been actively seeking His will to improve over time. Or, if we only seek guidance from the Holy Ghost for what we consider big decisions and ignore the little promptings about things He would have us improve on, change, forsake, or repent of, then we may find the Heavens silent, or at least a little slow in responding.

You may ask, “Well, even if I have been a little reluctant or complacent, when I go to God at last, you think He’d answer, right?” “He wants me back, right?” Well, while God loves us unconditionally, His love is true love—tough love. The kind none of us particularly like. But, the kind we actually need. Sure, He wants us back. But, it is also His work and glory to help us become as much like Him as possible (Moses 1:39). So, if withholding answers and guidance for a moment will lead us to re-evaluate our lives and become better; then God will likely withhold and give us a chance to desire, more deeply, such a priceless gift as the Holy Ghost. He will wait until we desire it so much that we are willing to come closer to Him and further away from our own will. He does this so that when He does answer we are humble and willing to follow His counsel. So that we have a greater chance of not taking it for granted.

Why doesn’t He let you make that decision? Why doesn’t He give without using tough love to help you improve? Because, “for he who sins against the greater light receives the greater condemnation” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3). If God gives miracles and guidance and blessings when we are not willing to accept them or follow them, then our condemnation for not accepting or following is greater. In other words, the more you receive the more eternal trouble you can get for deciding not to accept that which is given to you. It would be unfair for God to punish us for not accepting light and truth if we weren’t prepared to receive or follow it. By withholding He is showing mercy.

The Prescription for Better Recognizing the Guidance of the Holy Ghost

President Monson, who seems to have a particular gift for recognizing the promptings of the Holy Ghost, gave these simple steps in several recent conference addresses (see endnotes for sources):

  1. Communicate daily with Heavenly Father in sincere prayer. God has commanded, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).
  2. Be worthy to receive inspiration. God has said, “…seek me diligently…” (ibid)
  3. Trust inspiration when it comes. (Proverbs 3:5)
  4. Follow inspiration when it comes.

I might add:

  1. Pray less passively. Ask for ways to act, listen, feel, hear, and do; instead of praying with passive, generalized statements, like, “Please help me to…” or “Watch over me when…” An active statement in prayer might be, “Please show me how to ensure this journey is a safe one for our family,” or, “As I visit with my friend, please make bring things to my remembrance that I can share to help comfort him/her.” (Check out this address Ask In Faith by David Bednar as he teaches how to prayer with active prayer language, and this helps immensely in being led by the Holy Ghost)

So, that’s it. I might surmise that if you are having trouble getting the guidance you desire to receive, then you might try to: 1) pray more often and more sincerely and meaningfully (Ask In Faith), 2) become more worthy and seek God’s will more diligently, 3) be more trusting when inspiration comes, 4) follow more willingly and more quickly when inspiration does come.

Different Ways of Feeling or Receiving Promptings and Guidance

Now, if you’ve made it this far, then what I’d like to do is to talk a little bit about the different ways the Holy Ghost talks to and guides me. This won’t mean that He’ll talk to you the same way. But, by seeing how He talks to me in different situations, it might help you better ponder the possibilities for yourself. That’s all I can offer. The rest is up to you.

Reading the Scriptures

When I’m reading the scriptures and the Holy Ghost wants me to take note of something, I generally find that the verse subtly zooms out at me a bit and gives me pause making me want to reread it. Sometimes, that won’t happen, but I’ll read past the verse and then my mind will catch a certain word or phrase as a trigger and it takes me back to the verse. Then, on the second read it will often give me pause and I will see a direct correlation between a few words or a phrase in the verse and something in my life.

I don’t always feel a big weight or burning in my chest when this happens. But, often, when I reread the verse several times and ponder why it is giving me pause, thoughts will come to me or aspects of my life that seem to tie to these words or phrases. Then, there is another step, if I’m willing to take it. As I think about how I can apply these words or phrases to my life situation, when one of the things I think about and consider is right, then, I will often feel a strong mental weight on that action or idea. Often I’ll feel it is something I need to do now, or soon. Once the idea has been pressed upon me, it is not easily forgotten, and will continue to come to my mind as something that needs to be done—until I do it. If I ignore it long enough, it will go away, but I try not to do that.latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

Other times, when reading my scriptures, I come across something that means something different to me than it did before. This is not a pillar-of-light kind of experience. But, it is enlightening. Usually, I review cross-references on the phrases that have a new meaning to me and find my mind carried away into aspects of a principle or truth I have never considered before. It’s a pleasant journey. It uplifts me. It’s exciting to learn something new. Then, if I continue to ponder how to apply it in my life (which is yet another step required), I will find ideas and inspiration coming to me. Not always in the moment. Sometimes it will come the next day, or days later. However, often, if I do not record these impressions, they are lost by the next day. Sometimes I can be reminded of them by revisiting the verses, but sometimes not. Then, I find that the more I record these types of minimal impressions, the more frequent they become and the new and deeper truths and doctrines I uncover.

These are two of the ways that the Spirit works with me when I’m studying my scriptures. It may be different for others. But, I can recognize when these moments come. And, they don’t come when I just read “to read.” They only come when I’m putting forth sincere effort.

Making Life Decisions

Learning to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost in life decisions is not an easy task. I believe that the level of study and effort required to access this personal understanding says something about how sacred it is. Things given to us without effort and hard work are nearly always taken for granted, misused, exploited, wasted, etc. Not everyone who wins the lottery blows all the money and ends up in more debt than before winning, but the percentage who do is considerable.

I know some people who seem to get promptings for their life as easily as going to the faucet with a cup for water. However, I am NOT one of those people. I find generally, that the Lord lets me bump into walls and bounce about until I make my way down the path He intends for me. I often run spiritual marathons before finding a drop of water on a leaf that hasn’t dried up from a recent rain. So, I’m not about to tell anyone anything that will lead them to believe it’s easy to get promptings. However, I do know, after much bumping and running, how the Spirit speaks to me. And, at least for me, He always does.

When it comes to decisions, I am usually already trying consistently to keep the commandments, live worthy of the Spirit, and seek the Lord’s will. Because of this, I make my pros and cons lists. I study it out in my mind. I ask all the suggested questions, like: “Will this choice help me serve the Lord better? Will this move, or this job change, help me and my family come closer together and to the Lord? Etc.” Then, instead of asking the Lord to tell me which decision to make based on my research, I have learned, that for me, the Lord expects me to make a decision first and start moving toward it. Only then does the Holy Ghost exert influence upon me in the form of validation or an icky feeling that makes me feel uncomfortable with my choice.

Many people often overlook the “studying it out.” But, even more forget to “make a decision” before asking “if it be right”(Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9). And, for me, I have to actually exert effort and time into pursuing a decision before the feelings of “yes this is good,” or “no, don’t do this,” comes.

Many people take the words from Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 so literally, that if they don’t get an immediate “burning in the bosom,” while they are still on their knees in prayer, they get confused. Yet others take the words “stupor of thought” to mean that while they are on their knees in prayer they will completely forget what they were praying about. I don’t know if this actually happens to some people. If it does, then lucky they are. However, for me, the confirmation or stupor of thought happen a bit differently.

All of us are familiar with small magnets. If you put two of the same poles together they push away from each other. If they are small, you can exert sufficient force to hold them together, but the moment you stop exerting force, they push apart naturally. On the other hand, if you put two opposing poles near each other they pull together without any extra exertion from you.Red and Blue Horseshoe Magnet Isolated on White Background

This magnet example is how most (though not all) of my life decisions come to me. If it is a good thing or even the best choice, it just “sits right.” This doesn’t mean there aren’t ever any external barriers, but as far as my mind, logic and heart are concerned, the idea makes sense and attracts me to it. On the other hand, things that are not wise choices, or that are not the best choice God would have me make; while they might sound nice or seem logical, they simply don’t “sit well.” I have to sort of force the idea on myself since it sounds so nice. But, I’m never comfortable with it. And, if I stop trying to make myself consider this unwise or not best choice, I do sort of stop thinking about it. It falls to the side and becomes unimportant or pales in comparison to another option or idea that arises. This is my particular kind of “stupor of thought.”

Now, some life decisions I have felt a big “no” or “yes” on. But, they are not common for me and I can remember all of them. So, sometimes I have received a more significant “burning in the bosom” or a weight of impression that is unmistakable. But, I can also say, that the better I get at recognizing the magnet-promptings, the more clear and understandable all of my promptings are becoming. But, I’m nearly 40 and I’ve been working at this since I got a testimony of the gospel at age 14. So, 26 years of practice.

Being Inspired at Church

If I am making an earnest attempt to pay attention and participate at church, I find that it’s not really the lesson, or talk, itself that impacts me. But, often, a certain phrase spoken a certain way, or an experience someone shares, or some small piece of what they do or ask triggers an idea or memory in my mind and heart. The idea or memory that comes past that trigger is often unrelated to the general topic being taught or spoken on, though not always. This is often how I know it’s a prompting.

Now, when I say “unrelated” I mean that it is unlikely that I would ever have made the connection between this phrase from the talk/lesson and a certain idea or memory on my own. It’s not impossible. So, I suppose it could be justified away. But, it’s happened so many times in my life that either I’m stupendously brilliant in ways other people are not, OR, the Holy Ghost is bringing these ideas and memories to my remembrance (St. John 14:26).

Preparing a Lesson

As I have noted in my blog entry “Teaching BY the Spirit or Some Other Way,” the Holy Ghost works somewhat differently in the teaching environment. Teaching is a different situation than basic personal revelation. It’s different than just having the Holy Ghost with you. It’s even different than getting up to bear your testimony. Why? Because you are not doing it for yourself. You are acting as an instrument through which the Holy Ghost can work to accomplish His task as the Master Teacher to both you AND those whom you are called to teach.

If you want to understand how the Holy Ghost works in teaching, then I refer you to that blog entry.

Conclusion

Now, there are lots of different aspects of life and for each of us the Holy Ghost will work with us differently based on our personalities, emotional/psychological state, talents, and spiritual gifts. I don’t have the knowledge or the ability to tell each of you how to figure out how the Holy Ghost works for you. That’s your job and His job.

So, that’s it. If you really want to get better at recognizing the Spirit, then you’ve got to work at it using the steps given by President Monson. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the most valuable gift you will ever receive in this life. Thus, it’s the most difficult gift to make use of. It transcends all money, possessions, intellect, fame, glory, etc. The Holy Ghost is the second baptism, the baptism of fire. If you do not seek His guidance, if you do not allow Him to sanctify you through diligently seeking to follow His promptings, then what remains to you? There’s either “you + a member of the godhead,” or “just you.”

I don’t know about the rest of you. You are free to feel and think as you wish. But, for me, I have found this gift of guidance from the Holy Ghost to be worth all of my efforts—through times of doubt, times of trial, and times of peace. I know, for myself, that the Holy Ghost is real. And, I can confidently promise any who read this that if you follow the simple steps above, and exercise hope and faith, that in time you will come to recognize the promptings and guidance of the Holy Ghost well enough to live your life well, and with confidence in the Lord.

BT

Doctrine: The Holy Ghost is a gift, not an entitlement. God purposefully requires diligent and consistent effort in order to access increasing guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are 4 simple steps to coming to better recognize guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are lots of different possibilities and ways the Holy Ghost may try to communicate with you.

End Notes

Thomas S. Monson, “Consider the Blessings,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 86-69.

Thomas S. Monson, “Stand in Holy Places,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 82-86.

Thomas S. Monson, “Tabernacle Memories,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 41-42.

Today I have a guest vlogger of whom I quickly became a fan. One video? Ya, that’s all it took. And you’ll be a fan, too. Why? Because she is a woman of truth. And when she speaks, the truth rivets you to the screen. She is an inspiration to all girls, young women, and women. I asked to her guest vlog for me and she accepted. Take the five minutes to listen to her talk about how to eliminate the fear in your life with perfect love. She knows. She’s had to fight those fears.

Thanks Rebecca Kiser!

What does it mean to be happy? The dictionary says it means to feel or show satisfaction or contentment. To me, that means to be at peace.

I think the modern world today defines happiness very different from what it actually is—thus confusing many and creating an environment of misery and entitlement, which can never produce happiness. It’s a vicious cycle of always wanting and never being satisfied, content, or at peace. I see happiness in the world today defined as a lack of suspense, lack of effort, lack of patience, and even ignorance. Indeed, our entitled world seems to feel that happiness is the absence of troubles rather than what happiness really is.

Happiness, in fact, has nothing to do with the absence of troubles, trials, sickness, pain, poverty, calamity, or even the state of society. We can be happy even when the world is falling down around us. We can be satisfied and at peace when our hearts are hurting and our bodies are incapable of moving the way we’d like. We can be happy if we focus on our lives and what we can control and accept and let go of the things we can’t control.

Living after the manner of happiness is truly about what we can individually control.

In 2 Nephi 5:27 Nephi says, “And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.”

So, what is that and how do we do it, right? Let’s take a look.

Keeping the Commandments

And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things (2 Nephi 5:10)

2 Nephi 2:13 clarifies why observing the judgments, statutes, and commandments of the Lord brings happiness when it talks about God’s law establishing what is sin and what is not, and ultimately declaring, “And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness.” Alma 41:10 is also often quoted, “Wickedness never was happiness.”

Consider the idea of accomplishment and achievement. A law establishes how to achieve and accomplish something. Godly rules: when we keep them or know we’re making a sincere effort to keep them, there is a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Such a feeling of spiritual peace is not possible without a law and set commandments. Thus, observing them helps us to feel happy with ourselves.

When there is uncertainty about what is good and what is evil, there cannot be the peace that comes from accomplishing good and avoiding evil. Let me explain.

The world today calls much that is sin, righteousness, and much that is righteousness sin (Isaiah 5:20). Thus, people engage in sin thinking that it’s okay. Yet, because God’s law stipulates that it’s sin, the consequences still follow. Gravity is gravity even if we are determined to jump off a cliff. Thus, happiness comes not from fighting against, or remaining ignorant of, the law but in learning to apply it (D. Todd Christofferson) to preserve our lives and to be happy. So also with the eternal and indisputable laws of God.

Whether we acknowledge it, believe it, or feel it, every one of us is alive and has the opportunity to partake of this mortal existence because of the light of Christ. It lights every person that comes into this world (John 1:9). We can’t go against that godly light, which is our fundamental and even subconscious conscience and essence, without experiencing its effects. Sin leads to guilt, uncertainty, un-identifiable internal suspense, heightened anxiety (above that which life already presents), unexplained loss of self-worth, defensiveness, pride, fear, despair, and misery.

Thus, to live “after the manner of happiness,” requires a submission to God’s judgments, statutes, and commandments. By embracing them and learning to apply them personally we find satisfaction, contentment, and peace. We experience faith, certainty, meekness/humility, identifiable internal composure and calm, decreased anxiety, an increase in self-worth, a decrease in defensiveness, trust, assurance, happiness, and self-confidence. We feel like we are right with the world, because we are. This is happiness.

For example: Most people know, or suspect (even un-religious folk), that forgiveness is healthy and holding grudges is not. God defines holding a grudge as a sin. God defines not forgiving as a sin—even a worse sin than the one committed against us (Doctrine & Covenants 64:9). And yet, people today thrive on the negative euphoria of focusing on the offenses they’ve received. They try to stay angry all the time. They don’t believe in God or they don’t trust God to enact justice in the time frame they want. They try to find ways to revenge themselves (another sin, since God says vengeance is His) or enact their version of justice. They devote time and energy to actively hate and exert force or manipulation on the lives of others—whom they can’t fundamentally control—instead of actively forgiving—which they can control. Thus, they suffer all the consequences that accompany it (as noted above). They think they have a right to hold on to that offense and yet all doing so does is make them unhappy—because it’s a sin. Their negative attitudes and hatred never make them happy. They do not find happiness until they leave the matter in God’s hands (hands much more capable of enacting both justice and mercy). Then, peace, satisfaction, and contentment can enter.

Hard Work, Being Actively Creative, Learning Trades

And the Lord was with us; and we did prosper exceedingly; for we did sow seed, and we did reap again in abundance. And we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind. (2 Nephi 5:11)

And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance. (2 Nephi 5:15)

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands. (2 Nephi 5:17)

Nephi is very clear here about what his people are doing that creates happiness, self-worth, satisfaction, contentment and peace. They are working hard, being actively creative, learning trades, and enjoying the fruits of their labors. They are up and doing.

There’s a reason why we feel good about ourselves after we’ve worked hard, offered service, attended educational courses, learned or discovered something, or created something. It’s because these are all godly endeavors. God has a work and glory—it’s us. He spends all of His eternity trying to help us become like Him. He doesn’t hold anything back as “His.” He shares it all. He creates everything. He gives all of Himself to us. He serves us non-stop. He tries to give us as much of Him, His power, and His resources, as we will worthily seek and accept.

Whenever we exert our moral agency to get up and do something that is similar to what God does, we will always get that beautiful, peaceful feeling of contentment and satisfaction. We feel right in a way that we can’t explain. We also can’t explain why something that seems like it should be unsatisfying is so satisfying. It simply is, because its godly.

There are some strong principles here. Happiness doesn’t come from outside ourselves. We create it.

[Note: Some people suffer with clinical depression and anxiety and I’m not suggesting that just performing an act of service will take these things away. I happen to live with and be related to several people who struggle with these very real psychological diseases. And yet, even for them, they have to choose to be up and doing despite their clinical struggle. The depression and anxiety rarely go away for them and if they waited to do anything until these diseases were cured they would be robbed of the little happiness that is available to them.]

When we put many godly things in the right order in our lives they gain the power to produce satisfaction and contentment. Such godly things include: taking care of our physical body, studying the scriptures, serving others, earning our living fairly and honestly, seeking education, reading from the best books, seeking our talents and using them to bless others and to serve God, etc. When we abandon godly things for unproductive endeavors, or sin, we begin to feel the effects. And while they may seem unexplainable, they are.

A Thought on Unproductive Endeavors

Psychological studies are beginning to suspect a strong correlation between social media/computer use and increased levels of anxiety, depression, and even suicide (see Endnotes for links to these study results). How can this be? Technology is such a blessing. Is it now only to be discovered as a curse?

I remember a few years back, after my divorce, I began to spend a lot more PASSIVE time on social media, email, and phone games. I went to those places looking for a pick me up. I wanted someone to send me an email and pick me up by saying something, or doing something that would change my life up a little bit. I wanted to pick up my phone and find a text from the perfect man who’d just happened to notice me. I wanted to play games that would make me feel happy and satisfied with my life.

Well, the result should not be unexpected. Those PASSIVE hours looking for external (outside of myself) pick me ups was fruitless. Those texts didn’t come. Or not as often as I wanted. Those emails didn’t come. Those games didn’t create any sense of satisfaction or contentment. They only made me feel like I needed to spend money to get more credits and buy more virtual stuff to keep the game exciting and to have it go somewhere. I was a bunny chasing a carrot. This viewpoint was leading me nowhere. It was unproductive, and over time debilitating.

Then, I remember the day I decided that whenever I felt down I would text someone else to pick them up, or even just to see how they were doing. Instead of waiting for a text I sent uplifting, genuine, messages to women I had a stewardship for that I cared about. I’d always think, “Sending this text isn’t going to help me feel better.” But, every time, EVERY TIME, I acted to create happiness for someone else it got me out of my funk. I’d find just that extra bit of energy to go for a walk, or cook a fun meal, or to sit down and write a book on my computer for a family member or to hash out a doctrine I had been pondering.

It was in these moments that I realized that happiness comes from doing, working, creating, giving, serving, etc. It seems so counterintuitive. We imagine hard work to be difficult and require so much effort and so we think: work=unhappiness. We’d much prefer to watch another episode of our favorite show on Netflix. We imagine our talents are too meager to create something that other people will appreciate. We’d much prefer to search Pinterest and copy what someone else has created. Laziness and depression feed on self-deprecation and the need to create mountains out of molehills. These downers protect themselves by creating false beliefs and ideals in our minds about getting up and doing.

And then, despite what we are certain is true, when we finally get the impetus to get up and work hard, to create, to give, to serve, we end up with this feeling of satisfaction and contentment that can only be recreated by the same godly endeavors. When we stop waiting for someone else to pick us up and we act, we find satisfaction and contentment. This is absolutely true and it never changes.

Thus, if we are to be active on social media and our electronic devices, then we should use them to create and share uplifting material. We should use them to serve others. We should go to these devices looking not for pick me ups but for ways to pick others up. It’s amazing how it changes the end results. We may get tired. Our brain may get over-stimulated. But, the anxiety, the depression, the lack of satisfaction of our lives in comparison with others, the misery of not getting any likes, dies. We have used social media “after the manner of happiness.” And, we can apply this to nearly everything in our life we use passively. We simply have to become active to increase its capability to provide satisfaction and contentment.

Rest

Have you ever noticed that when you lay in bed all day (unless you’re really sick, and sometimes even then) that going to bed at night is difficult, and uncomfortable. Mentally and physically you just feel rotten. Sitting around all day doing nothing is not restful. Sitting around all day and playing video games or scrolling through social media timelines is not rest. Laziness is not rest. And yet, rest is not always sleeping.

For me, a good book helps my mind to rest during, and after, a long, stressful, busy day. Sometimes, after being active from 7 a.m. to  2 p.m. with errands, a good TV show is restful. Digging into my scriptures at night before I go to bed always re-energizes my spirit and allows me to feel at peace so I can turn my mind off and get sleep. Prayer also lets me mentally work through my day and settle down so I can have a greater chance to get rest.

A vacation is a rest from work. Wholesome recreation is rest from our labors. But too much vacation and too much recreation and we are back to feeling unsatisfied and discontent.

Even if we are anxiously engaged in doing good (Doctrine & Covenants 58:27), we should still not run faster than we have strength (Mosiah 4:27). God rested after creating the earth. We should also work hard and then rest well. The Sabbath is a day of rest, hallowed and sanctified by God. What does that teach us about rest? We need it. If we don’t take it (like even God, Himself, did) we cannot be happy. We cannot feel satisfied and content and at peace. We’ll be a basket case.

Reasonable Preparation

And I Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us… (2 Nephi 5:14)

What Nephi is talking about here is preparation. How much suspense would the Nephites have been in if they hadn’t been prepared to defend themselves against the Lamanites, who were always coming upon them unawares and trying to bring them into slavery and bondage? Perhaps not all fear of the Lamanites could be eliminated, but preparation to defend themselves certainly increased their confidence in their ability to preserve their way of life.

Each of us has areas of our lives that increase suspense and fear. Preparation can decrease and often eliminate that fear. Doctrine & Covenants 38:30 teaches us that, “if [we] are prepared [we] shall not fear.” We can’t always do everything we want to do. We don’t always have the money or resources to prepare for every possible calamity that could come our way. We don’t always know when a job will be lost. We don’t always know when a loved one will be unkind or even attempt to hurt or abuse us. We don’t always know when a tornado is going to rip off our chimney. But, if we have prepared to the best of our ability based on the resources we have, our fear will be greatly decreased and our peace of mind, contentment, and self-confidence will skyrocket.

Nephi and his people were prepared against their greatest fear. As we do what we reasonably can to prepare against our fears and worries, we are living “after the manner of happiness.” We can relax and know that we’ve exerted ourselves in our defense and can leave the rest in God’s hands.

Conclusion

Living after the manner of happiness is not about the absence of struggles and troubles. It’s about actively being who we want to be, actively living in godly ways, resting sufficiently, recreating wholesomely, and being prepared against our greatest concerns and worries. Then, we can let go and give the rest to God.

This doesn’t mean we walk around with a smile pasted on our faces. But it does mean we move forward in faith with peace, power, and contentment.

BT

End Notes – sites with stats about social media/computer time leading to increased anxiety, depression, and suicide

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amitchowdhry/2016/04/30/study-links-heavy-facebook-and-social-media-usage-to-depression/#3c46a5334b53

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/11/14/563767149/increased-hours-online-correlate-with-an-uptick-in-teen-depression-suicidal-thou

https://nypost.com/2017/11/14/rise-in-teen-suicide-connected-to-social-media-popularity-study/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4183915/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26783723

http://www.upmc.com/media/NewsReleases/2016/Pages/lin-primack-sm-depression.aspx

 

Doctrine: <Your super power> is the power by which God works! <Your super power> is evidence of the power and reality of your faith. <Your super power> reflects your testimony and understanding of who you are and who others are as children of God.

If you could have super power, what would it be? What would you use it for? Would it have limitations or rules for its use? Or, is the power to wield it absolute?

How would you use your super power to change your own life, the lives of others or the world?

Whether you realize it or not, if you are a human being, you already possess a super power—a very real, tangible, power that you use daily.

Consider the following quotes and see if you can guess what your super power is.

Dumbledore, Deathly Hallows: Word are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.

Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

Proverbs 15:4 A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.

Proverbs 16:24 Pleasant words are…sweet to the soul and health to the bones.

James 3:2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

Alma 31:5 …the preaching of the word…had a more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword or anything else, which had happened unto them.

Matthew 12:34 …for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

Matthew 12:36-37 But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

Matthew 15:11 No that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

Jeffrey R. Holland, The Tongue of Angels The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones.

Jeffrey R. Holland, The Tongue of Angels A woman’s words can be more piercing than any dagger ever forged, and they can drive the people they love to retreat beyond a barrier more distant than anyone in the beginning of that exchange could ever have imagined.

Jeffrey R. Holland, The Tongue of Angels With such words, spoken under the influence of the Spirit, tears can be dried, hearts can be healed, lives can be elevated, hope can return, confidence can prevail.

Emily Dickinson I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word.

Pearl Strachan Hurd Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs

Anonymous Don’t mix your words with your mood, you can change your mood but you can’t take back your words.

Power.

I suspect that after skimming all of these quotes you’ve come to the conclusion that your super power is words, or the power of speech. But, before you brush it off as a “let down,” and are disappointed that it wasn’t something more amazing, let me enlighten you just powerful and critical the power of speech is.

First, ponder the question, “How could words be so powerful? What could possibly make them so powerful that they could be considered a super power?”

Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught:

The Prophet Joseph Smith deepened our understanding of the power of speech when he taught, “It is by words … [that] every being works when he works by faith. God said, ‘Let there be light: and there was light.’ Joshua spake, and the great lights which God had created stood still. Elijah commanded, and the heavens were stayed for the space of three years and six months, so that it did not rain. … All this was done by faith. … Faith, then, works by words; and with [words] its mightiest works have been, and will be, performed.

Wait a minute. Did you catch that? Speech is the power by which God works!

So, if we break that down, then we could say, to be a god one must have the power of speech. Meaning then, that because we, as humans, have the power of speech, that we are capable of becoming like God. And, in fact, if we didn’t have the power of speech (which I remind you is a super power) we couldn’t become like Him.

Elder Holland also implied (as well as several of the quotes/sources listed above) that the most powerful works of faith and individual authenticity are evidenced in our words. Our words can create and destroy both matter and people. Thus, words are the actual evidence of the power and reality of our faith.

Have you ever wondered how powerful your faith is? Have you ever doubted your faith? Well, then, how can you test its strength and power? Answer: review your daily speech.

If you want to know how powerful your faith is, review your speech to your family, friends, at work, at church or at school, over texts, and on your social media accounts. That will, without a doubt, reveal to you the current level and extent of your faith in God, His Son, and His plan.

Thus, if you want to increase your faith, you can do so by changing your daily speech. It’s that powerful.

In Matthew 25:40 we read:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

We could replace the word “done” with “said.” Thus, inasmuch as we have said it unto one of the least of God’s children, we have said it unto Christ. Hmmmm, powerful, eh? But there’s more to this thought.

C.S. Lewis has a beautiful quote in The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

“All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations…” Meaning, we have the power to influence people toward godhood or what Lewis implies is some type of devilhood. We have the power to influence…

Granted, as potential gods and goddesses we are certainly in control of our own fates. We have the complete power of agency. But if fellow demigods are working against us, then it serves to reason that such powerful influence can be a major hurdle, even a major battle to overcome in such a process.

So, drawing from this scripture and quote it seems quite clear words are evidence of our understanding of who we are and who others are. If we want to know the depth of our testimony of our divine nature, of our possibility to become like God, then we merely have to review how we talk to ourselves and others. If we think we have a strong testimony that we are children of God but we talk to others as if they are something less…then perhaps our testimony is not truly what we thought it was.

It is one thing to know a truth. It is another thing to embody it. God doesn’t simply know truth, He embodies it. He is love. He is mercy. He is truth, etc. How we use our super, godly power of speech reflects directly on our ability to progress toward becoming like God.

We cannot become like God, ultimately, if we use our godly power of speech to demean ourselves or others. To do so is to literally fight against God and His children.

Now, this is quite a daunting revelation. But, don’t panic. Just begin today. Evaluate your words. Do they reflect what you believe to be the current level and extent of your faith? Do they reflect your testimony of your own divinity and the future divinity of others? Do you use your words to help others (and yourself) toward godhood? Or, do you use your super power to battle others, slowing them down on their upward journey?

Woman with Super Powers - shallow depth of field

Don’t just recognize where your super power is being used for ill. Sit down and ponder how you can begin the slow change toward using it for godly purposes. Make plans on how to implement what you are inspired to do. Practice. Evaluate when you fail and strengthen and adjust your plans. Keep trying.

The beautiful thing about this super power of speech is that you can begin immediately to use it well. Give a compliment. Offer encouragement. Apologize for a wrong. Share an uplifting quote on social media. Cease gossiping. Cease making light of others as a joke. Avoid sarcasm and demeaning intellectual forms of manipulation.

The super power of speech is so multifaceted and powerful. It can be used for good or ill in nearly every circumstance. Do not underestimate it. It is God’s reigning power. It is what gives you the potential to become like Him.

BT

Doctrine: The law of opposition requires that true joy comes only in response to true sacrifice. Getting something easy only makes it less valuable, less meaningful, and less powerful. Sin and righteousness are both very hard. The only difference between them is that sin seems easier up front but ends up being exponentially harder in the long run (entropic), whereas rightness seems harder up front but ends up being exponentially easier in the long run.

I get really frustrated with people who, over the years, have basically made the assumption that living righteously comes easy to me. I get frustrated, because when they make this assumption, they do it in the awestruck/pity context of saying that they would be righteous too if it came easier to them. They act like I’m some anomaly because I consistently try to be righteous (and healthy), and simultaneously resent me because I manage to keep going despite trials, stress, setbacks, and troubles.

Not only is their assumption semi-insulting, it’s also a reflection of their lack of common sense and reason. These people are basically saying the following to me:

IF something is easy, I’ll do it. IF something is hard, I won’t do it. Lucky for you that being righteous comes easy for you. I wish it came easy for me, because I’d want to do it if it was easy for me like it is for you.

These people are also basically saying to me:

Being unrighteous (or doing what I want despite commandments or sound advice) is easy, and that’s why I do it. So, instead of asking me to get stronger or work harder, I just wish God would make it all easier.

Now, I’m fairly certain these people don’t actually believe that the hardness or easiness of a thing is the whole reason for doing it. I don’t really think that they take the “path of least resistance” in everything in their lives. But, they seem to take this point-of-view when it comes to hard things, like keeping the commandments or getting healthy. They don’t want to admit to themselves that the real underlying problem is that they don’t want to keep the commandments or get healthy because they are not yet personally convinced that the effort to do such things is worth it to give up the perceived value of the things they will have to sacrifice. In other words, they don’t think effort and sacrifice = true happiness.

red ant rolls stone uphill

Now, here’s the doctrine:

Both unrighteousness and righteousness are extremely hard. The only difference in the two is that righteousness is harder up front and exponentially more rewarding  and joy-producing in the long-run; and unrighteousness is easier up front and exponentially less rewarding and misery-producing in the long run. Which, if you do the mental math means that unrighteousness is actually far more difficult because you’ll eventually have to do things the righteous way anyway, which will still be hard, initially when you finally get to it. In the long run, unrighteousness is non-sustainable. Righteousness is sustainable.

Unrighteousness is natural entropy (defined: natural decline into disorder or large-scale collapse). It will, if pursued continually, turn one’s (spiritual or physical) life into a living hell. On the other hand, righteousness is natural improvement, increase, or a natural rise. It will, if pursued continually, turn one’s (spiritual or physical) life into a living joy.

Righteousness is initial and up-front sacrifice of something we consider of temporary value (perhaps even extreme temporary value) for something of lasting and eternal value.

Sin is holding onto things of temporary value and ultimately sacrificing things of lasting and eternal value. (Or, in other words, sin is trying to get the lasting and eternal value of something in a way that cannot produce it.) [Makes sinning sound pretty stupid.]

C.S. Lewis says this in his book The Great Divorce:

That is what mortals misunderstand.  They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory.  And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin.  Both processes begin even before death.  The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness.  And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost “we were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.

Here are some scriptures about peace, joy, and lasting feelings that come after initial, upfront, and early hard work and sacrifice:

  • That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)
  • …wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith (Ether 12:7)
  • And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36:20)
  • And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statues, and the commandments of the Lord in all things…we did sow seed…and we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of all kinds…And I did teach my people to build buildings and to work…And I, Nephi, did build a temple…I, Nephi did cause my people to be industrious and to labor with their hands… And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness. (2 Nephi 5:27)
  • For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad, [happiness nor misery, sense nor insensibility]. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one… (2 Nephi 2:11, brackets moved up from later in verse)
  • And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit… Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of our faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you. (Alma 32:37, 43)

Hard construction work

I could list volumes of scriptures. But, I wouldn’t want to deny each of you the joy that comes from discovering them yourself. But, the underlying doctrine regarding reaping true peace, joy, and fruit (i.e. lasting results) is sacrifice and hard work. It is NOT sitting around and waiting for something to become easy or easier. It is NOT waiting until the consequences of sin compel you to choose sacrifice. In order to get lasting joy and peace we must get stronger, not wait for things to get easier.

A lot of people wait until they are deep in the throes of depression, abuse, addiction, bankruptcy, incarceration, or other entropic ends before they consider living life the harder way (up front). The better, true, lasting way. Yet, in their current entropic/fallen state, they have nearly doubled the level of starting difficulty into their mental, spiritual, or physical health turnaround. Their choice is no longer simply about doing one or the other. It’s choosing the initially better, harder option, at last, while still dealing with the entropic consequences and aftermath of choosing the initially easier, worse option in the past. And, whether or not they are able to make the leap into “living after the manner of happiness,” they most likely will live with the extra weight of the consequences from their past unwise choices, for the rest of their life.

There is no “something for nothing” principle in all of the universe. Every choice has a consequence. It’s eternal law. No matter how we may fight it, we simply will never be able to get anything of value (and hold onto it lastingly) without considerable effort. [Which is worth it!]

There is no relationship, of any kind, that will magically last without significant, concerted effort. There is no career path or education that will magically fall into our laps without significant, concerted effort. There is no health or happiness of any kind that we can truly grab hold of without hard work and sacrifice. And, if we ever choose to sidestep into getting something that we want through lazy, faddish, shameful, or dishonest means, by the laws of entropy (since dishonesty is an entropic decision) that something will eventually be taken back away from us. We will lose it (Helaman 13:30-36).

Or, if we do not lose something by natural, entropic laws, we will cast it away ourselves because it has no value to us.

I’m not sure if the statistic is true. But, a lot of business articles out there claim that 70% of lottery winners (or people who get a big monetary windfall—implying that they didn’t have to lift a finger to get it) end up broke within five years. And the reason they end up broke is because the money has no meaning to them. Why does it have no meaning? Because they gave it none.

Determination concept

Things we have not worked for we are not prepared to receive. We haven’t thought about them. We haven’t pondered them. We haven’t planned for them. We haven’t done anything. Thus, we are not equipped to appreciate them or value them. And, because they came with no effort we part with them (or blow them in the case of spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical currency) with the same amount of thought—none.

Whether we like to hear it or not, nothing in life has meaning or value or power to bring us joy if we don’t give it meaning, value, and power by our blood, sweat, and tears. Our action in the pursuit of something is what gives that something meaning, value, and the power to grant us satisfaction—and lasting joy.

You don’t have to believe this. But, I guarantee that whether or not you put in the work to test it, you’ll eventually find that it’s true.

BT

Doctrine: God may know our hearts, but we can’t know our own hearts or the true extent of our spiritual devotion without outward action and ritual. Such ritual creates mental, emotional, and spiritual landmarks, memories, and grooves that change us fundamentally. Passive, inward, devotion alone cannot produce the faith and power necessary for us to lay hold upon the full measure of God’s grace and glory.

We live in a time where people shun organized religion and ritual. To them the ritual of attending meetings and doing prayers and other formal outward acts of devotion are outdated and unnecessary. They may even consider them ridiculous and empty. Their defense against such things is that God (if there is a God) knows their heart and therefore doesn’t need such things. And, I cannot disagree with that.

However, I can promise these people that while God knows their heart, they, themselves do not know it. They think they do. But, they don’t. I can also promise that while God doesn’t need their rituals, they do, and that they cannot be true Christians without it.

Ritual Teaches Us About Us

Those who profess to know God and to follow Him without ritual and organized religion do not know the extent of their devotion to Christ, the depth of their feelings about Him, or the breadth of their capacity to follow Him. To put it bluntly, they don’t know anything about their spiritual power and capability. They don’t really know if they want to live with God forever. They don’t really know if they want to live like God forever. They can’t know these things without such devotion being tested. Ritual illustrates, tests, and teaches us about the level of our spiritual devotion and desires.

My Mother-in-law has what she calls a “God Box.” When she bumps into something in her life that she cannot control or change and she is struggling to let go and give it over to God, she writes it down on a piece of paper and puts it in her God Box.

“What good is that?” a skeptic may ask. She can just tell herself in her head and heart that she will let it go. Why then go through the hassle of writing it down and putting it in some random box?

But let me suggest that by going through the ritual (however small) of putting those things in her God Box, my Mother-in-law has created a spiritual groove in her soul, and also a mental and emotional groove in her heart and mind. The very act of doing something ritualistic and outward creates a powerful memory. It becomes personal evidence. Then, when she is tempted to stress about it, try to control it, or try to carry it, her spirit, mind, and heart trip on those grooves. She is then reminded, and knows for herself, that she has given this burden over to God. It then becomes easier and easier to let it go. Going through the ritual has the power to create unshakable knowledge and thereby unshakable faith.

Note the principle: by ritualistically writing something down and putting it in the box she has a clear memory of giving the burden over to God. She knows, perfectly, without a doubt, that she has given it away to Him. Because of this perfect knowledge because of her ritual, she also knows perfectly that God knows she has given it away. Thus, she can trust Him completely to carry it.

The ritual is an outward signification that marks, and shows to herself, her inner desires to accomplish or do something. It sounds simple, but by going through the ritual, she makes it nearly impossible to go back on her desires and intent.

Let’s now ask, “If she hadn’t gone through the ritual, what would she have lost out on?” She would have lost out on the chance to give meaning to her individual devotion and resolve. She would have lost out on the chance to know the extent of her intent to give such burdens to the Lord. By doing she gained a testimony of her own ability to act on her intent. She would have also lost out on receiving the power that comes from making an outward commitment to herself and God. By making it physical and outward, she made it real. She gave her desire life and to go back on it would be destructive to her spiritually and emotionally. That’s how powerful ritual is.

Ritual is the Evidence of Faith and Gives Our Faith Power

It is one thing to believe in Christ. It is another thing to act on that belief. Without the action, there is no evidence of our belief, it is only potential belief, or dormant belief. We can say we believe in Christ but there is no evidence or proof that we can offer, especially to ourselves. On the other hand, it is possible to go through the motions of belief and not actually believe, but it exceedingly rare and usually temporary. If such a course is pursued in a cursory way, it will in time transform and unbeliever into a true believer if they continue. That is the nature and power of righteous action.

Thus, we cannot say we have faith unless we also have works. Faith without works is dead (James 2:20, 26). Let me explain fully what that means.

Abraham, in the Old Testament, is asked by Jehovah to sacrifice his only covenant son, Isaac. Abraham could have said all day and night in his mind and to his relations, “I will do whatever God asks of me, withholding nothing.” And, God knew that Abraham would do anything he was asked to do. But, saying it was not sufficient for Abraham to know for himself that he really would. It wasn’t until Abraham was about to put a knife to Isaac that the Lord provided a ram in the thicket. It was in that moment, in what was sure to be the most godly trial any mortal man has ever had to carry, that Abraham knew, for himself, the depth of his love of God and his devotion to the Almighty Jehovah (President Hugh B. Brown in Truman G. Madsen, The Highest in Us [1978], 49). And Abraham could not have known it without the physical ritual.

beautiful retro chest with open lid on wooden background with pl

So, why do works? Why get married if it could end in divorce? Why get baptized? Why repent openly and before authorized representatives and judges of God? Why get married or enter into covenants accompanied by outward ritual? Why pray out loud? Why get on your knees? Why pay your tithing and offerings? Why sacrifice the things of the world for the things of a better? Why go to church? Why partake of the sacrament? Why, why, why…

It’s for us. It is all for us. And doing it has everything to do with us and what we know about our own souls. For without doing we can only suppose or guess about our love of God and devotion to Him. But, with the doing we then come to know about our love and devotion to Him.

God doesn’t need our sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22). We need them. God doesn’t need our prayers. We need them. God doesn’t need our money. We need to offer it for our own knowledge and understanding of our willingness to sacrifice and obey God, no matter the outcome (though God’s blessings are absolutely, universally, and eternally guaranteed for the sacrifices we make to do His will: Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21; 82:10).

The whole Gospel of Jesus Christ is set up for us to learn about the depth of our spiritual commitment, desires, and goals and to grant us power to be saved.

In Lectures on Faith we learn that in order to have faith in God, one of the critical components is a “an actual knowledge that the course of life which one is pursuing is according to His will (Lecture Third).” That means that we know, for ourselves, without a doubt, that the course of our life is as God would have it be. It means we know we are sincerely trying to do what God wants us to do. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but it means we know we are sincerely trying and that we never stop trying—even when we continually mess up.

In order to exercise the full power of faith; the kind of faith that precedes miracles; the kind of faith that moves mountains and compels martyrs to die for Christ; the kind of faith that can save us; we must know we are on the right track for ourselves. And, we can’t know that for ourselves without outward ritual and organized religion. We need that outward ritual and devotion as evidence for ourselves—not for God.

Christ said (Matthew 7:21):

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Why do we have to DO God’s will in conjunction with our inward devotion?

Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things: it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has, for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice, because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life. (Lectures on Faith, Lecture 6, italics added)

Our faith in Christ’s grace and offer of salvation is dead without our efforts at the accompanying works. Faith without works cannot save us and it certainly cannot exalt us.

When we KNOW, without a doubt, the extent of our spiritual devotion (and we can know it without a doubt by the evidence we give to ourselves through ritual and outward devotion), we have confidence before God—the kind of confidence that can call down miracles from heaven and bear life-changing testimony to those we meet. And this is because this confidence in our own righteousness (not pride) and heart removes all fear. It creates in us a well of grace that simply cannot go dry (St. John 4:13-15) on our own behalf or others—if we maintain it.

Lack of Ritual Decreases our Spiritual Power

Just as people gain godly power from proper ritual and outward devotion, so also many lose power the moment they cease such efforts. “Well, I got baptized, served a mission, and got married in the temple, so I’m good.” BEEP. Wrong. “I went to Seminary for a couple years, so I’m good.” BEEP. Wrong. Etc. That’s like saying you’ve worked hard for several years to get to the peak of your physical capacity and now that you’ve reached it your body will simply stay at that peak of fitness. BEEP. Wrong.

All of us know that mundane physical exercises and stretches must be performed by even the most fit of individuals, and that those mundane exercises and stretches are the foundation of their fitness. Thus, the same applies spiritually. The small acts of devotion and ritual that we do to become spiritual to begin with are the very things that help us maintain our power to remain so. We may build upon them from time to time, but those minimal acts should never cease if we expect to maintain our knowledge of our faithfulness and our power to continue faithful.

It’s strange, the moment I get out of shape, I suddenly start to believe that I’ll never get in shape again. It happens long before I’m actually totally out of shape. That’s because I’ve lost momentum. And, getting that momentum going again is difficult. We all know what it’s like to “suck air” for a week or so of running until we build up our lungs and muscle endurance again.

The moment we realize we’ve gained some weight, we suddenly start to believe that we’ll be overweight forever. We see others who are in shape and we mourn. Yet, there is no evidence that our silly depressed emotions are true. There is, in fact, only evidence that we have complete power over our ability to lose weight and get fit. So, why do we start believing something so false? Because we have stopped doing, we are no longer certain about ourselves any longer.

Without outward action, devotion, and ritual we can never have any certainty about spiritual selves. And, so it is a lie to think that one can be devoted to God without it.

We all need a God Box. We all need ritual.

BT

Doctrine: When we follow promptings to covenant with God and to become more deeply committed—to turn our life and will over to Him—we must expect a time of demolition and change before the promised blessings and new construction. Anything that entices us to love God, serve God, and become more like Christ, is sent from God. Before God can put us on the path to our ultimate happiness, He has to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way.

Consider the following scenarios:

A. Jill meets the missionaries, takes the discussions, enjoys marvelous spiritual experiences, and gets baptized (enters into a new/deeper covenant with God). Jill is excited to have found the truth. But, very soon after getting baptized, several family members shun her for her new religion. She has also newly committed not to work on Sunday and her current job is unwilling to support her new beliefs. She gets laid off. As well, a few members in her new ward seem to be openly judgmental about her Sunday attire. To Jill, it suddenly seems that she is getting punished, in multiple ways, for her choice to join the church. She now doubts whether she should have joined at all.

B. Joseph is a long-time member of the church. But, recently, he has been inspired to make some deeper commitments and promises to the Lord. After doing so, his current marriage begins to fall apart. The more he tries to keep his deeper commitments to the Lord, the worse his marriage relationship becomes. His wife seems to resent his increasing efforts to become more godly. Joseph knows he has been inspired by God to make these deeper commitments. But, now, it seems as if he is getting to a point where his wife may leave him. Does he have to choose between his wife and God? He is beginning to doubt whether or not the Lord would rather he keep these deeper commitments if it means his marriage will end.

These two scenarios have several things common:

  • The person makes a new covenant with God, renews their covenant with God, or deepens their commitment to their current covenants with God.
  • The person experiences a negative effect, or aftermath, directly related to their new/increased covenant/commitment with God.
  • Because of the directly related aftermath, the person doubts their promptings, actions, or past spiritual feelings/experience.

Often when we are guided, or inspired, to make deeper commitments to the Lord—and we follow those inspirations—things in our life begin to change. These changes do not always seem to be for the better—at least not initially. And, because these changes are often initially negative, we may incorrectly judge this negative aftermath as a sign that what we have done is either unwise, wrong, or perhaps not from the Lord after all.

When we judge such aftermath negatively, we do so because we are afraid and confused. As we ponder our impressions and feelings, we can remember feeling strongly that we were guided to act. But, now, with so much backlash, lack of support, and other confusing happenings, we second guess our spiritual experiences, testimony, and faith. It is hard for us to imagine that God would lead us in a direction that would seem to rob us of what we thought was already good in our lives.

In Moroni 7:16-17 we learn that anything that entices us to love God, serve God, and become more like Christ, is sent from God. Yet, we still have this juxtaposition of spiritual experience with negative aftermath.

Isn’t God bound to bless us when we do what He says (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10)? So, if we are inspired to make covenants and deeper commitments, by the Lord, why does everything appear to go south afterward?

I call it “The Reconstruction Process.” God is the supreme remodeler. Why a remodeler instead of a modeler? Well, because we have free will (agency). God will not force us to live our lives in the way that will bring us ultimate peace and joy. However, when we make covenants and commitments with God, we are, in effect, turning our lives over to Him. We are giving Him our free will and agreeing to do with it as He commands. We are handing Him the reigns to our life.Backyard Deck Reconstruction

It is in this moment when we turn our lives over to God that the remodeling and reconstruction process begins. Before God can put us on the path to our ultimate happiness, He has to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way. Before God can build us a mansion in the celestial kingdom, He has to tear down the two-bedroom ranch we’ve constructed in a lower level of glory. There are no spiritual vacation homes.

In fact, no matter what level of righteousness we are currently at, the moment we commit more deeply to God and strive to improve, the reconstruction process begins. This reconstruction process often includes removing or changing certain aspects of our lives that we are currently comfortable with. It may include removing something that we think is good, or even great. And, so we get discouraged and misunderstand what is happening.

Hydraulic crusher excavator backoe machinery working on site

I remember very clearly the day I had the courage to get on my knees and sincerely say—with a bit of fear—to the Lord, “What is it that you want for me? I’m willing to follow the path you’ve designed and I’m ready to let go of the one that I’ve been clinging to. My life is in your hands. Make of it what you will.”

What was the aftermath?  I lost the brand new home my spouse and I had only recently bought. I continued to fail to get pregnant and have a child. I had to give up my job to move across the country. I had to live without a home of my own for two years. Then, my marriage crumbled to the ground no matter what I did to save it. Then, I had to quit yet another job where I was earning more than I had ever earned. Then, I had to move back in with my parents for 5+ years. During this time, despite my many qualifications and connections, I couldn’t seem to get a decent job. The list went on and on…

It took the Lord 7 years to tear down the life that I had built up; before He could begin to rebuild it. He did it as slowly as He could—so that I was not overcome—but it was still incredibly confusing and painful. I spent many years doubting where my life was supposed to go and what I was supposed to be doing. I often doubted that the Lord had any plans for me at all. But, I decided to be as content as I could with where I was and the circumstances I was frozen in. I did my best to own my situation and count my blessings–and the Lord gave me many even though I felt a bit lost. I had given my life over to the Lord. So, part of me knew that even if I wasn’t settled and content with the current circumstances that I was where the Lord wanted me.

Level and pen on an architects planThen, 7 years after I said, “My life is in your hands,” the Lord began to start the actual new construction. I was finally back to the foundation of my life and God could work with it. I saw the plans begin to form and materialize before my very eyes. What He has done since has been beyond anything I could ever have imagined for myself—and I thought I could imagine a lot. Yet, the Lord has shown me that no matter what I can imagine, He can produce something beyond the reach of it.

Seven years is a long time. I started that 7 years of demolition at the age of 26. The new construction is now 4+ years in progress. What if I had waited until I was 30, or 40, or 50 to submit my will to God’s?

At the age of 26 I was trying do to my best to live God’s commandments and do His will. What if my life had been more deviant? What more might I have had to pass through in order to get to a clean slate where God could build anew?

When we follow promptings to covenant with God and to become more deeply committed, to turn our life and will over to Him, we must expect a time of demolition and change before the promised blessings and new construction. Sure, it’s frightening. We always wonder what will come along if we “let go.” But, though the path is unknown and the process stressful, faith-testing, and often time-consuming; when the actual reconstruction begins and we get glimpses of what the Lord is doing with our lives, we will rejoice in ways we never could have ever dreamed before.Time to rebuild

God is the master of eternal joy. He is the master of healing, and hope. He is the master contractor. He is the master gift-giver and the preeminent lover of our souls. And, after giving our life over to Him we must trust that we can endure the demolition required before the reconstruction begins. Without fail, the more we trust the Lord and the more we covenant with Him and the more we deepen our commitment to those covenants, the more initial struggles and growing pains we will experience as He alters our lives to put us on track for eternal joy—His joy.

So, when these initially negative hours, days, months, and years come in the aftermath of your new, renewed, or deepening covenants and commitments; retain your faith and trust the Lord. For, “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; St. John 14:15).

BT

Doctrine: Like a seed is planted in the darkness of dirt where it can best take root and germinate, so also is true faith sewn/born in darkness. Exercising faith in darkness (or dark times), lighting a mere candle, is what eventually brings us out into the glorious light of Christ. Christ is the light that disperses darkness.

Depression is real. Anxiety is real. Mental disorders and conditions are real. To what extent, to what duration, and to what level we experience these mental and psychological struggles is different for each of us. Some depression and mental disorders are clinical—meaning they are semi-permanent, or permanent. They may come and go, or they may never go at all. Some depression and anxiety is circumstantial based on hurtful life experiences and temporary struggles—and it passes with time.

No matter what extent we suffer any of these issues, they are difficult. And, these are often the times we struggle the most to feel a connection to God. Indeed, we may struggle to feel anything at all. Or, conversely, we may feel so much that connecting spiritually with God is nearly impossible.

Though we may not realize it, strong feelings, of any kind, can be more than a sufficient blocker to feeling the Spirit. But, simply because we can’t feel the Spirit doesn’t mean we are evil or that we have done something wrong. It’s simply difficult to connect when we are in the throes of any kind of extreme emotion; whether it be anger, infatuation, pride, selfishness, exhaustion, despair, intense grief, intense emptiness, and so forth.

Richard G. Scott (April 2012) taught: “…yielding to emotions such as anger or hurt or defensiveness will drive away the Holy Ghost. Those emotions must be eliminated, or our chance for receiving revelation is slight. (Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life)”

C.S. Lewis says in A Grief Observed, that:

You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately; anyway, you can’t get the best out of it. ‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk’ reduces everyone to silence. ‘I must get a good sleep tonight’ ushers in hours of wakefulness. Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst. Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead?

…and so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: [because] you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.

On the other hand, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? And there’s also ‘To him that hath shall be given.’ After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give. Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity.

C.S. Lewis goes on to describe grief/depression/despair like both fear and suspense. And, I think depression, anxiety, and other mental struggles often feel similar.

If you are empty, you fear you may never feel again. Then, you experience the suspense of waiting till the moment feeling returns. You may even try to initiate, or take charge of, the return of feeling by resorting to actions that bring on anger, lust, despair, and guilt. I use these because for some reason when we are in such depths we rarely (unless we have trained ourselves) naturally (Mosiah 3:19) resort to those actions that bring on forgiveness, love, hope, and peace. We seem to naturally choose to excite negative feelings. Maybe that’s because those Christ-like actions seem more impossible when one feels nothing at all.

Or, on the other hand, you may feel so much, an excess of emotion, that you fear you may never bet back to normal levels. Then, you experience the suspense of waiting for blessed normalcy and equilibrium in your emotions and feelings to return. You may, again, try to initiate the return of normal feeling by taking unhealthy actions; simply because in this excessive emotional stimulation healthy actions are not natural (Mosiah 3:19) and seem to require heroic effort, while negative ones “seem” to not require as much.

Again, I want to emphasize that having feelings that temporarily block our ability to feel and comprehend God’s hand on our shoulder during these mental struggles does not make us evil. It also doesn’t mean He isn’t there. In fact, He is there, but our ability to tune into that presence is often difficult because we are wearing emotional and psychological sunglasses in an already dark room.

Lest anyone think I don’t know what it feels like to be in any of these throes or to struggle with anxiety, emptiness, excess emotion, or the like; I can only venture to say I have experienced them all in several ways and to extents I have not the room to explain. And, unfortunately, I continue to experience them. However, over years of practice, I have learned how to get out of these “dark ruts.” It is for exactly this reason that when I was asked to blog on this topic that I had sufficient doctrine fodder to present—because I have pondered it extensively.

So, how can we stay spiritual if our mental, emotional, and psychological illnesses are akin to the wall of China between us and our ability to sense the presence, love, guidance, comfort, and Spirit of God in our lives?

I have two answers to this. Both came to me while listening to well-prepared talks at church.

#1

The first came a year or so back. I don’t remember what the talk was, but I had a jolt of insight about light.

So often, when we feel we are sitting in a void unable to reach God or to feel His presence, we are in a metaphorical darkness. Of such darkness, Elder Uchtdorf (April 2014) taught:

Spiritual light rarely comes to those who merely sit in darkness waiting for someone to flip a switch. It takes an act of faith to open our eyes to the Light of Christ. Spiritual light cannot be discerned by carnal eyes. Jesus Christ Himself taught, “I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

This quote talks about how when we are in darkness, we need to make an effort to feel light. When we are in darkness it is hard for us to comprehend the light that very well may be present. However, Elder Uchtdorf compares it to flicking a switch. Yet, while I was sitting in Sacrament meeting one day, a more applicable illustration came to my mind. Because as we all know, flipping a switch from darkness to light simply isn’t that easy.

So, in my mind, instead of a switch, I saw a candle. When we are in darkness and we light a candle, there is still darkness. The small light, while better than ultimate darkness, still casts shadows creating fearful images and it leaves much of a room, or space, still hidden from us. Yet, we can use that candle to make our way, little by little to the light switch. We navigate with anxiety past certain shadows and dark patches that once we are past we see they aren’t as frightening as we thought. Then, at last we reach the light switch. Because it is the light switch which is able to disperse all the darkness and leave very little, if any, of the room (or God) obscured.

Candle, flame.

So, when we feel that our ability to feel the Spirit and God’s presence in our lives is inhibited by our weaknesses and struggles, we do have to take a leap of faith and light a small candle. We have to reach out to the Lord even though in that moment we feel that He couldn’t be farther from us, that He doesn’t care about our struggles, or that perhaps He doesn’t exist at all. If we can light that small candle and protect it, it will give us sufficient light to creep closer and closer to the light switch. That small candle light—though not sufficient to disperse all fear and darkness—by slow and steady progress, will lead us across the “dark room” of our current struggle to the switch. Then the Light of the World will make Himself known unto us and enable us to continue forward through each and every dark room that follows until one day, all the lights are on: “and I say it unto you that you may know the truth, that you may chase the darkness from among you (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24-25).

Would you like an example of lighting a candle? Well, in my past I had at least 2.5 years of depression, sadness, and hurt that was quite intense at the beginning and then slowly ebbed (going up and down) over the course of those 2.5 years. During that time, I told myself that when I felt down in that dark pit of feeling sorry for myself or of feeling empty and abandoned, that I would text my three visiting teaching sisters. I would say something nice to them and ask how they were.

It was that simple. That was my candle. And, believe it or not, it was extremely difficult to do even that, to strike that match and light a stubborn wick with a shaky hand. But, I always had my phone on me and those numbers were programmed in. So, every time I was down in that pit I texted those ladies. They didn’t know that was why I texted. They never knew. But I knew that thinking about someone other than myself for the 30 seconds it took to text could make a difference.

And, you know what…that candle helped me climb out of the pit—every time. Every time I did it, I would think, “It’s not going to work; not this time.” And, that candle would flicker, but somehow it was always enough. It enabled me to change my course of thoughts, to stand up, to move, to go and do something that brought the light flowing back into my mind and heart.

(See also my blog post Knowledge versus Intelligence on acting on truth even when we don’t “feel” like it)

#2

The second answer, came to me at a recent Stake Conference that I attended. One of the ladies who spoke had me riveted for her entire talk—which I sadly admit doesn’t happen very often. The reason she had me riveted is because she said something that was like pure truth being injected into my head and heart. And yet, it was something so simple I couldn’t believe I hadn’t ever discovered it myself.

This woman had spent years, and I mean literally years upon years, battling a life and death and yet entirely unknown and never before treated brain stem issue/tumor (I believe). She talked about being in constant darkness. She consistently struggled to “tune in.” Yet, there were many times she did feel the Lord’s help, comfort, and guidance despite the fact that He did not remove or easily fix her problem. She entered many experimental surgeries never knowing if she would come out alive. And, even as she spoke to us she wore a unique neck brace and could hardly move her head. So, she wasn’t out of the darkness, completely—not yet.

Then came the injection of truth. She said quite simply that during these dark times, she often felt she lacked faith in God. She struggled to find her faith. She was in “darkness.” Then, she quoted several lines from Alma 32 (the noted chapter on “faith is like a seed”). She said:

It occurred to me one day that when we plant a seed that it goes down into the darkness of the dirt. Then, as it is watered and nurtured, it is still in darkness as it takes root, sprouts and begins to grow. It isn’t until it has been nurtured with great care that it begins to break the surface of the darkness of the dirt and burst forth into the light. So, it would seem that all faith must be born in darkness if it is to grow at all. And it is only when we nurture our faith despite the darkness that it will eventually bring us out into the light.

I remember sitting there, stunned. How had this simple truth about faith totally escaped me?

I mean, I may have experienced such a phenomena, but no one had ever explained why before. No one had ever put it before me so plainly. I wondered how I ever thought true faith came in any other way (Doctrine and Covenants 101:4).

In the parable of the sower, did not seeds that fell upon the soil and remained out in the light get eaten by the birds? Did not the seeds that did not sink down into the dirt and “take root” in darkness fail to properly germinate and thrive? How did I miss this beautiful doctrine all these years?

Light Switch - On

So, my second answer is this: If you feel that you are often, or nearly always in mental, emotional, or psychological darkness, remember that you have the capacity to grow and produce a deeper, stronger faith than many others will ever have. I don’t say this is “on the surface” something to celebrate. But, certainly it is without a doubt a spiritual gift that if grasped will lead you straight to the throne of God.

So, like a seed must be planted underneath the soil to take root and to germinate properly into a plant with the potential to grow up and produce true fruit; so also, must our faith be born in darkness. It must be tried before it can thrive.

But, when we are in these dark moments, we need only light a tiny candle. That candle won’t disperse the darkness immediately. But, it will give us enough light to proceed forward until we can reach the light switch and then be showered with the glorious light of the Master.

BT